Read an Excerpt
My Smart Puppy
By Sarah Wilson Brian Kilcommons
Copyright © 2006
Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson
All right reserved.
THIS IS YOUR PUPPY!
It is the evening on November 30, and we're about to get a new
puppy! While scanning an Internet rescue site, a calm, intensely
intelligent expression caught our eye. The fact that this puppy is
also black, white, and tan, the color of our beloved late great
Australian Shepherd, Caras, means we are hopelessly biased in her
favor. Brian had to be in New York City on business, so I am driving
out to Fishkill, New York, to meet this little one and her foster
mother. As I pull into the parking lot of our meeting spot, I can
see the puppy sitting next to a woman's feet. She is smaller than I
thought, which is good. She sits there, watching the world parade
by, neither leaping at passersby nor shying away. I like her from
thirty feet away and it only gets better. Sidling up, ears back, she
greets me softly, politely. She is incredibly cute. Once we've met,
we go for a little walk together. She bounces everywhere without
mouthing. When a shopping cart rumbles by, she startles then walks
behind it, curious. Excellent! She is charming. She is adorable.
Flipping open my cell phone, I place the call to Brian: She is
perfect! And Pip has found her home.
Dogs have entered our lives many ways. Brian got his Rottweiler,
Beau,from a top show-dog breeder and judge. PJ, our "well-mixed"
terrier, was a foster puppy who stayed. We found Caras in an ad in a
dog magazine. Good dogs come from many places, each arriving with
his or her own blend of instinct, personality, and experience. You
and your puppy are embarking on an adventure, one that has been
repeated millions of times over thousands of years and yet one that
will be uniquely yours. If you pay attention on this trip, you will
learn more than you ever expected about yourself, relationships, and
communication. Where do we begin this journey? Where every such
journey begins, with understanding the other. This chapter is about
what you need to know about your puppy before you move forward with
his or her education, socialization, or housebreaking.
TEN KEYS TO UNDERSTANDING YOUR PUPPY
1. Each Puppy Is Different
Even within a single litter of pups, there can be extreme
differences, from outgoing and friendly to withdrawn and aloof. Are
you and your siblings or cousins exactly alike? Neither are pups.
This puppy of yours will be different from any dog you've had or
will have. He has his own personality-with features that amuse and
parts that annoy, a total package. And as the old saying goes, the
trick to being happy is not to get what you want but to want what
you get. Your job, as his leader, is to build on his strengths while
minimizing his weaknesses.
2. Your Puppy Is Not a Blank Slate
Your puppy arrives in your arms a package of instincts and hardwired
behaviors. In some, those instincts/behaviors border on compulsions.
Border Collies can stare obsessively at movement, Labradors may lose
their minds over tennis balls, some Terriers bark almost nonstop.
Your pup doesn't even, can't even, know there are other options.
Saying "No" to a dog in the middle of an instinct-triggered behavior
often doesn't help or if it does, it won't for long. "No" simply
doesn't compute. "No" tells your puppy you are upset-nothing else.
He needs alternatives, which you must supply. You must teach your
Border Collie that he can look away, your Lab that he can leave the
ball on the floor, your Terrier that he can sit quietly ... as
these ideas will never, ever occur to them.
3. Your Puppy Needs More than "Love"
Actually, love may be all your puppy needs, if love means meeting
your puppy's emotional, mental, and physical needs, even when you
don't especially feel like it. But if by "love" you mean meeting
your emotional needs first and foremost, even when that conflicts
with the puppy's needs, then that is not enough. What we say to
clients is "Do you love your puppy or do you love loving your
puppy?" If you love your puppy, doing what he needs is second
nature. If you love loving your puppy, you will do what you want to
do while complaining about your puppy. For example: Puppy urinates
in kitchen overnight. Easy solution: Your puppy sleeps crated in
your bedroom. If you love your puppy, you do that because you know
it will help the puppy learn. If you love loving the puppy, you'll
refuse to take that action because "you don't like crating her," and
then you'll create a problem.
4. Minor Moments Matter
Every interaction you have with your puppy teaches her something.
There is no "small" interaction. If your puppy steps in front of you
and you move out of her way to avoid bumping into her, she learns
that she can make you move. If, instead, you kept your feet low,
your knees bent, and shuffled on through her, she learns that you
can make her move. You may think, Who cares? Your puppy does and
therefore you must. In social mammals, leaders walk and followers
get out of the way. This is true in people, horses, and dogs. Those
many minor moments teach your puppy who you are. If you teach her to
push you around, walk all over you, and ignore you, it can create
problems later. People often say that problems "came out of the
blue!" but they are often the result of months of dismissing or
missing the meaning of those minor moments.
5. To See It Is to Mouth It
Puppies explore their world with their mouths which, until about
four months of age, contain tiny, pointy, needle-sharp teeth. Pups
mouth things that move, like your cat or your pant leg. They gnaw on
things with the same predictability with which young human children
attempt to stick things up their nose. It's just going to happen at
some point. This is not a "bad" puppy; this is a normal puppy. Plan
for normal events to happen, so you can supervise, teach, and
redirect to a better option. Avoid thinking that normal things like
this won't happen and then being annoyed or surprised when they do.
6. Puppies Do Not Understand Risk
First off, a three-month-old puppy has been on our planet for only
ninety days or so. Nature has given him speedy mobility but little
time for experience. You must protect your puppy as he will swallow,
chew, leap off, and careen into slippery, sharp, and dangerous
things. Sarah remembers all too well watching fivemonth- old
Bracken, her German Shepherd Dog, race up the back steps and vault
off the three-foot-high railing, arcing upward toward a bird on the
back fence. As she landed she dropped some six feet or so to the
ground without incident, but was that anticipated? No. You can never
anticipate everything. So, when considering risk, ask yourself not
what you think might happen, but what could happen.
7. Puppies Love Pleasing You
Anyone who has ever seen a puppy sporting a delighted, openmouthed
grin when his person praises him knows that dogs of all ages enjoy
it when we enjoy them. They want that connection- it is one of those
things that makes dogs dogs. They get a kick out of us!
It is in vogue in some circles to talk about how dogs have no desire
to please. We feel sorry that anyone in the dog community could live
with dogs and not experience that warm, mutual connection. In some
circles, touch and praise are billed as "distractions to learning."
As if a relationship were a "distraction." We have dogs because of
the mutual relationship we can share with them. What a sad, cold
world it must be to treat a dog as if he is incapable of deep
connection and to then be treated in the same way by the dog.
My Smart Puppy people do not have to live in that distant world. You
will build a relationship with your puppy, seeing his or her joy in
our joy. In order to see this, you must learn how to praise your
puppy warmly and sincerely in a way your puppy enjoys. Show your
puppy through touch and voice just how fond of him you are and you
will see him respond in kind.
8. Puppies Need Lots of Sleep
Humans take around fifteen years to grow from infancy to sexual
maturity. Your puppy does it in under one. She may start life at one
pound and bite into her first birthday cake at seventy-five pounds.
That is an extraordinary rate of growth. A large-breed puppy may, at
the peak of growth, put on nearly a pound a day. To accomplish this
feat, your puppy needs rest and a lot of it. Expect your puppy to
log nearly eighteen to twenty hours a day for a few peak-growth
months. Just like children, overtired puppies can become cranky,
pushy, whiny, or otherwise frustrating.
It is your job to recognize those signs and tuck the pup into his
crate for a nap. This is especially important in households with
children, where a puppy can be kept awake and active for too long.
9. Puppyhood Is Messy
In every sense. Not only will you be dealing with physical
byproducts- urine, feces, vomit, hair, dirt, and in some breeds
drool-but learning is messy. Think how difficult it is to
communicate clearly between people. Now try between species; you are
trying to communicate with a species that has no clue about what
you're trying to teach. Sometimes your puppy will be confused,
sometimes you will be, sometimes you both will be-that is normal.
The way through it is productive practice. Avoidance, frustration,
or "putting it off" never trained a single puppy. You can do this!
Nothing has to be perfect-as long as you are consistent and
persistent, your puppy will learn to understand you.
10. Puppyhood Is Brief
Hallelujah and darn-all at once. You would not be human if you
didn't think from time to time, When will this end? We can tell you
when it will end: very quickly. Use these months. You cannot ever
get them back. Train, play, socialize, explore-prepare your puppy
for a long, happy life as an adult dog. Along the way, take
pictures, find ways to have at least a little fun with your puppy
every day, and have patience with normal mental and physical canine
developmental stages. They are as precious as they can be annoying.
Do I Have to Be Dominant?
I hear from people that I have to dominate my puppy. Is this true? I
love my puppy and I don't want to be mean.
Good! We don't want you to be mean either. We want you to be his
best teacher. Think of the teachers you most respected in your life.
What qualities did they have? Most people report that their best
teachers had high expectations, were fair, funny, forgiving,
reliable, sure of themselves, secure-wonderful attributes for good
leaders. A good leader leads from a place of clarity plus calm
confidence-not confusing, combative reactions. We'll teach you how.
Dogs "speak" clearly, though we humans do not always hear them. In
our opinion, human lack of understanding causes many of the dog
bites in the United States. If we "heard" dogs better, we would be
bitten less. This section can save you and your loved ones from
trouble with dogs. Our goal: to prevent the bite long before it
happens. Please read it carefully, and look at the pictures, then,
if you have questions, come to MySmartPuppy.com and ask!
When reading any dog, check their T.E.E.T.H.:
Tension, Ears, Eyes, Tail, Head
MY THUNDER STANDINGS ABOUT DOG BODY LANGUAGE
A Wagging Tail Is Always Happy
This is usually true, but not always. A wagging tail, like the human
smile, can mean many things. A tail that is straight up, stiff, and
vibrating back and forth? That is excited and stimulated, but not
"happy." This dog could be moments away from aggression. A tail
tucked all the way under the dog's body could wag at the very tip.
This dog is frightened but trying. Do not press her. A tail that
wags level with the spine or a bit above or below spine level in
large, sweeping wags? That is a happy dog.
Showing Teeth Is Always a Threat
Most of the time it is, but some dogs actually smile when they are
excited to see someone. This is pretty disconcerting until you know
what is going on. Breeds known for their toothy grins include
Dalmatians, Doberman Pinschers, Australian Shepherds, and
Greyhounds. If the dog's ears are back, the tail is wagging low, and
you see a flash of front teeth, chances are you've just seen a grin!
Hackles Raised Means the Dog Is Aggressive
Hackles (the hair along the back) can piloerect (raise up) when a
dog is excited and unsure. Sometimes it is a warning sign of
aggression, but in puppies it is more often a sign of excitement,
concern, or worry. Many dogs will hackle slightly (or not so
slightly) when they enter a dog run, only to shake it off
(literally- dogs often shake when they have calmed down a bit) in a
few minutes before settling down to some serious play.
Cowering "Proves" He "Knows What He Did Wrong"
Nah, cowering "proves" he knows you are about to be angry, and those
are two entirely different things. If your roommate came home once
or twice a week, opened the door, and attacked you for no apparent
reason, you might cower or leave the room when the door opened at
night, too. That would not prove that you "knew what you did wrong."
THIS IS YOU! HOW PEOPLE IMPACT PUPPIES
Temperament is often in the eyes of the beholder. Variations in
human temperament are numerous and affect how the puppy's
temperament is perceived. One person's wonderfully "perceptive"
puppy is another's "wimp." One "good watchdog" is someone else's
"aggressive puppy." There are homes that will adore most puppies for
who they are and homes that may dislike them for exactly the same
Now, what about us? What do we bring to the table as teachers and
trainers? To understand who you are likely to be as a teacher, look
at how you were taught. Until we consider the impact of how we were
taught, we often are left repeating or completely avoiding our
history. Taking a look at our inner teaching model allows each of us
to make better choices about how we want to behave as teachers.
Example: We have a friend who attended a strict Catholic school
where the nuns were harsh. If she didn't know an answer, she was
punished. If she gave the wrong answer, she was punished. Since not
knowing and giving wrong answers are a normal part of learning,
normal learning was made frightening and stressful. How did that
impact her as a trainer? She became increasingly anxious whenever
the puppy did something "wrong." She was both quick to punish
harshly and quick to have a growing sense of panic inside herself
about not "doing it right" with her puppy. She didn't like being
harsh, so she often felt helpless to control her puppy, allowing all
sorts of behavior until she got frustrated and became harsh. The
guilt was overwhelming. She would "apologize" to the puppy with
excessive attention and asking for little in the way of self-control
until the puppy's behavior frustrated her again and the cycle
When this cycle was brought to her attention, it was a huge relief
for her. She was able to start making different choices: redirecting
her puppy sooner, setting clear, unemotional boundaries regarding
what she wanted and didn't want as well as taking a break when she
felt the frustration welling up. Her puppy calmed down considerably.
Life got a lot better for both of them.
Is our friend a "bad" person? Not at all. We are all products of our
history, but we don't have to be victims of it. We can learn to
behave differently when we get support for doing so. There are no
"perfect" puppies and there are no "perfect" puppy trainers. We're
all just getting better and better as we go along. We all start as
beginners. We all bring inner baggage-some of which makes us more
effective and some of which makes us less. That is normal. Aim for
steady progress and you'll do just fine.
During Sarah's master's degree research, she found that often people
seemed to define "loving" their pup as giving the puppy what that
person felt they were missing in their own childhood. Example: If
you were raised by busy parents, you may believe that giving the
puppy buckets of attention is being "loving." Below is a quick
overview of a few possibilities. We just wanted to give you a place
to start thinking about these things.
PUPPY PERSONALITY PROFILES
Your new puppy is like no other-ever. She is her own special blend
of behaviors, instincts, and tendencies. Understanding who she is
makes it easier for you to be an effective leader who brings out the
best she has to offer. Keep in mind that most puppies are a
combination of temperaments. They may go through one (or more)
changes as they mature and will display different personality traits
in different situations. Your puppy who is Appropriate/ Social at
home may be Sensitive/Shy the first week of puppy class. Your
job-and it can be a challenging one-is not to judge these normal
shifts but to help your puppy at whatever stage or phase she is in.
Understanding a little about the major temperament categories will
help you do that.
Excerpted from My Smart Puppy
by Sarah Wilson Brian Kilcommons
Copyright © 2006 by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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